Sunday, August 26, 2007

In Which I Return to the Past to Determine What Disturbed Me

Warning! There are spoilers. Read on at your own risk!

When I first read Interview With a Vampire by Anne Rice, I was alone in thinking that the story was pedophiliac and incestuous. My friends felt I was being overly critical and needed to just enjoy the story for what it was. I decided, when the movie was released, to reread the novel to see if my assessment had changed. It hadn’t. I still enjoyed the story but found the implications distressing.

Which is why I chose to re-watch two movies that I had found disturbing to see if I still felt as sensitive about them. The first is Endless Love, a coming-of-age movie that was hugely popular with my friends. I did not see it until it was on cable, when I was older. I remembered little about the movie beyond the song and that Brooke Shields starred in it. I knew that I found it highly disturbing but I couldn’t say why. So watching it again gave me an opportunity to assess what it was about the movie that bothered me and see if it still did so.

The answer is YES! The tender love story between two teens . . . that didn’t bother me. The Freudian moment in which the girl leaves her father’s side to join her beloved on the staircase . . . well, Brooke Shields looks so perfectly like a young bride that the layers of allusion could not possibly be lost. And the relationship spiraling out of control . . . I remembered much of these details.

I even remembered the mother watching her daughter having sex for the first time from the staircase but I did not remember how the mother sat and watched rather than politely leaving the two alone. I did not remember how the mother, later, actually tries to seduce the younger man. (That this happens after the mother is divorced and the daughter and boy are no longer together I suppose makes it less horrifying for some but not for me.)

Forget some of the silliness of the plot, those ridiculous coincidences that make the storyline sink into melodramatic soap opera foolishness . . . what I found most offensive and disturbing is the scene in which the boy and the girl are finally reunited after years of being apart. She is going to college and has moved on with her life and she has come to him to tell him he needs to do the same. Let go of the past. Move on. Be happy. Like me. And when he refuses to hear her, she tries to leave. What does he do? He grabs her because he loves her so much. He throws her onto the bed. He forces her to listen, kissing her, as she first struggles, screams, fights and then . . . of course kisses him back and starts to cry.

Because when a woman is being assaulted, practically raped, this is what a woman does. She melts with love for the man, especially if they have a past together, and gives into the romance of the moment.

As for the other film . . . I saw this one with my children, Rob and my mother. My mother and I are the only ones who found V for Vendetta disturbing. She for the violence and me . . . for something else. The violence was surprising and I did find it distressing but there was something more, much more, going on inside. Something to which I could not put a finger.

Rob bought the dvd and we eventually watched it although I avoided watching it for a while. Politically the story should have appealed to me—oppressive regime, citizens rising in protest, an inspiring hero. I admired the daring of telling a story about a terrorist and trying to make him sympathetic. Such a challenge to only be brooched by a facile artist. I already have a liking for the Wachowski Brothers, in spite of their heavy handed use of metaphors, and I like graphic novels. So far so good.

Then came my favorite part of the film . . . the love story. Not the story between the main characters but the other love story, the story within the story, the one shared with Evey as she is being tortured. The lesbian love story of a fellow victim. And when the story within a story is told we learn that V is the one torturing Evey, to break her and rebuild her. Yes, I understand that she needed to be strengthened so that she could face her fear and do what needed to be done. After all, isn’t this what most women empowering movies and stories are about? Beat the shit of out a woman or rape her and watch what happens. She comes back with a vengeance. Now she is a real Woman of Power, far superior to her weaker self before this horrible nightmare happened. I mean, it isn’t possible for a woman to be strong and empowered without first being tormented right?

Let me interject that this particular part of the movie follows Evey nearly being raped and then dressing up as a child, pretending to be a prostitute, and I had to wonder at what point is this not exploitative . . .

But in the end we must remember that there is love between these two victims—Evey and V—as evidenced by her giving V a kiss before saying goodbye. Ahhh . . . so that’s the way to win a girl’s heart? Rescue her from being raped and then kidnap her, use the Stockholm Syndrome to manipulate her and the situation before you pimp her out in hopes that she will commit murder for you . . . if she doesn’t get raped in the process, that is . . . then, when she has managed to escape, kidnap her again, torture her, lie to her, torture her some more, and more . . . and more . . . and know that in the end she will give you love’s true kiss, surround you with roses, and live the fulfillment of your dire dreams after you have died.

Ahhhhh . . . love . . .

I am tempted to read the graphic novel, to see if the plot is less alarming for me. I don’t anticipate that I will have a change of heart. If anything, I would be surprised if I didn’t experience a sense of reinforcement, of even greater disgust at what happens in the story.

Mind you, both movies are good (but not great) and if you are into these things then by all means . . . watch them. You will find a young James Spader and Tom Cruise in the first movie. And Natalie Portman is so lovely that watching her is always a pleasure. I will probably end up watching it again simply because we own it on dvd. But I also expect that I will return to this theme of movies I find disturbing but don’t seem to disturb others.

In fact, I can practically guarantee it since we are talking about Hollywood and all. I can probably find more fodder for this theme on my dvd shelf even now!

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